Redistricting will be the priority

Alamogordo Daily News (NM) - Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Author: Alamogordo Daily News By Milan Simonich, Texas-New Mexico Newspapers

SANTA FE -- In show biz, entertainers caution that the sideshow should not overtake the circus. 

New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan said something similar Tuesday in outlining priorities for the special legislative session just under way. 

The "arduous and complex process" of redistricting political boundaries will be the main job of the House of Representatives, Lujan said in his opening comments to his chamber. 

Other initiatives placed on the agenda by Gov. Susana Martinez will receive consideration if time allows, he said. 

The special session is to last no longer than 30 days. 

In the other chamber, Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, criticized Martinez for not submitting her full list of 10 initiatives until Tuesday. 

Jennings, a senator since 1979, said the executive branch ought to have everything it proposes in place at least 24 hours beforehand, so that legislators and the public know what to expect. 

Martinez added a departmental merger proposal to a list of bills she wants considered during the special session. 

She said state government is bloated, and she wants to streamline it through three consolidations. 

Martinez hopes to combine emergency management with homeland security; cultural affairs with tourism; and information technology with general services. 

Those measures are not likely to generate controversy as they amount to reconfiguring the governor's cabinet. 

But she also has proposed expensive initiatives, such as retaining up to 12,000 third-graders a year who do not read proficiently. 

Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, said he saw no reason for that measure to be considered by legislators during the special session. He said Martinez does not propose to implement the retention program for two years, so legislators need not rush through all its costs and implications. 

Miera, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he would focus on redistricting and not worry about other bills until the main job was completed. 

Redistricting was the only issue in a special session 10 years ago. 

Legislators met for 17 days in that 2001 session, but finished with nothing to show for it. 

Then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed all five redistricting bills submitted to him. 

That meant judges then had to settle redistricting and court costs to taxpayers exceeded $3.5 million. 

State Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, said she did not want a repeat of 2001, prompting her to withdraw her support for Martinez's education bill during the special session. 

Other Democrats have taken similar stands. 

"Redistricting has to be our main job," said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. 

Rep. Larry Larranaga disagreed with that premise. He said legislators hear hundreds of bills during regular 30-day sessions, and can accomplish more than redistricting if they commit themselves. 

"Where there's a will," he said.